Off the Shelf: A Review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman

“There’s a very old expression,” Scythe Goddard told him. “To be painless is to be gainless.” He gripped Rowan warmly on the shoulder. “And I wish for you to gain much.”

Lately, life has been a little hectic, and I couldn’t be more relieved to have finally taken a relaxing little vacation. As with any vacation though, I needed something to read, and Shusterman’s Scythe definitely fit the bill. I know I’m a little behind on getting this ARC review out before the publication date (Nov. 22 – today!), but I spread it out over my trip and let myself get lost in the pages rather than racing through it to meet a deadline. Neal Shusterman writes in a way that you don’t want to miss even the smallest of details.

I have to say, I was absolutely giddy to get to review an ARC of Scythe. I discovered Neal Shusterman a few years back when I became totally engrossed by his Unwind series and the controversial themes that played out in such a dystopian setting. Shusterman is a master at crafting dystopias. Now, before you start getting all “Ugh. Dystopias are SO overdone!” – let me tell you this. These aren’t your typical post-apocalyptic YA stories about a character fighting for survival in a frightening environment created by a totalitarian government. Nope. That’s just not his style. In fact, the worlds Shusterman builds are almost ideal societies with just a small twist that make them somewhat unfavorable to the main characters. For instance, the world in which Scythe takes place, human beings have eliminated disease and freed ourselves from our own mortality, letting a virtual Cloud-on-steroids maintain our progression as a species. Scythes control overpopulation, a necessary job in this world, and a job which neither Citra nor Rowan had ever dreamed of wanting. Sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? But when the act of taking two apprentices is seen as a major controversy, particularly because of their affinity towards protecting each other, it is decided that only one will be named a scythe, and the other will meet his/her end at the new scythe’s hand.

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Summary (via Goodreads)
In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do.

Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives

Things I Liked:

I won’t lie, when I first found out that Citra and Rowan were to be forced to compete against each other for scythedom and that one of these star-crossed lovers would have to die, part of me wondered if the ending was going to be something along the lines of Hunger Games (Spoiler alert for all three of you who may not have read it), and that they’d both just end up threatening to glean themselves or something of the like. And sure, throughout the story and through both of their perspectives, they both entertain this thought. But the glorious part? That’s not what happens. I flew through the last quarter of the book, and I did not see the ending coming. Fair warning – the last line is going to be one that sticks with you well after you close the cover.

As a female reader, I generally find more in common with female main characters, but with Scythe, I somewhat flip-flopped. In the beginning, I really enjoyed Citra’s perspective and didn’t really give much thought to Rowan, or “the lettuce” as he describes himself, the unremarkable one. When they separated for training, they both face unique challenges, but Rowan truly has to confront his own beliefs and the beliefs of his mentor. Rowan became more and more intriguing to me, to the point I actually started to root for him to be the victor. The character I enjoyed most of all though was neither Citra nor Rowan. It was Scythe Curie. Why? Because that woman gave off a total Professor McGonagall vibe, and I loved every second of it. Honestly, I’d be happy to see Shusterman write an entire book devoted to her story.

It’s brutal. Really brutal. Don’t go into this expecting something light and fluffy, because you won’t find it. The gleanings are gruesome, with death being administered in a wide variety of ways, from sword to flamethrower. One thing the gleanings are NOT though is just there for shock value. These killings/gleanings stir inner ethical debates for the readers, which may have them taking sides among the scythes.

Things I Didn’t Like:

There was a big chunk in the beginning/middle where I lost my interest in the story. I persevered, because I knew Shusterman would make it worth my while, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was just a rut where not much was happening other than the apprentices being trained, which of course gave a lot more insight into their characters and some of the secondary characters, but really, not much was happening overall. The journal entries at the end of each chapter from various scythes sort of bogged down the story for me because, if they contained any pertinent information to the story line at all, the information was often revealed to the characters in other scenes anyways.

I did enjoy that the characters seemed to come from all sides of the moral spectrum, but Scythe Goddard got particularly annoying in a lot of ways. He’s obviously the “big bad”, and at times, you can see the reasoning behind his beliefs. But in a lot of ways he’s just like what The Walking Dead tv show has done to the character of Negan – made him too over the top to where he’s constantly flaunting just how much of a jerk he is. That’s Goddard, and he earned plenty of eye-rolls as I read.

Overall Rating:

4/5 I originally believed Scythe to be a standalone novel, but then about halfway through the book, I took to Goodreads to update my progress – and it turns out, I was wrong! Scythe is the first book in the Arc of a Scythe series. My curiosity is already bubbling! Will the rest of the series be about the same characters? Or will it focus on entirely new scythes? Either way, I hope to get my hands on an early copy of book two, whenever it becomes available. I feel like this is going to be another exciting series from Shusterman that everyone should keep their eyes on. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out some of his other books, particularly my favorite – Unwind.

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Off the Shelf: A Review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I never really had a favorite Disney princess growing up. If you ask now, I suppose I like Jasmine the most, but I just wasn’t big on princesses like most little girls. The stories that always stood out to me were ones where extraordinary things happened to ordinary people. I suppose you could say that the same is still true today.

I adore most everything Alice in Wonderland. I collect Alice coffee mugs, Alice figurines and stuffed animals, different editions of Alice, etc. I even have an Alice – Our Lady of Perpetual Wonder prayer candle made by my lovely and talented author friend Tominda Adkins, purchased by one of my best friends as an epic surprise gift for my birthday. I’m considering that design for a tattoo one day. I think it’s safe to say, I’m an Alice fan.

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Anyone who knows me, or even just anyone who reads my reviews, also happen to know that I’m a major fan of retellings. That’s why, when I heard that there would be a new Alice retelling that told the story of the Queen of Hearts, and it would be written by Marissa Meyer, I knew we’d be in for a treat. I know I can trust Marissa Meyer for a quality retelling, one that will deviate from the original and create its own rich plot. The Lunar Chronicles series is a prime example of her talents. Plus, Meyer isn’t retelling Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, she’s merely borrowing this strange world and its even stranger characters and making it all her own. She takes us back to a time before Alice, before the Queen wore her crown, and gives us a look at what can truly turn a heart evil.

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RELEASE DATE: November 8, 2016
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Summary (via Goodreads)

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king’s marriage proposal, she meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship.
Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Things I Liked:

One of the most satisfying moments for me was a thought I had near the end of the book. I reached a certain heart-wrenching scene, and all I could think is, “Man, this is really starting to remind me of Wicked.” I mean that in the best way possible. I picked up Wicked sometime around high school and was utterly mesmerized. I remember thinking it was something so unique and wondering why there weren’t more stories that delved into the pasts of famous characters, particularly the villains. They weren’t always bad, were they? Something had to make them that way. Heartless and Wicked both show readers the depths that love and loss can affect a person’s heart, how someone innocent can easily become someone wicked, evil, or mad.

There are plenty of characters and references from the original that will delight fans, but you could also pick this book up without ever having heard of Alice or her adventures in Wonderland. Meyer presents every character in a new way. For instance, the Mad Hatter is one of my favorite characters in the original. In Heartless, he’s known as Hatta, and yes, he still makes hats, but hats with special characteristics. He’s also a character that I’m torn about my feelings for, mainly because I never knew if I could trust him or not. I thoroughly enjoyed that though, getting to see the Mad Hatter/Hatta through a new light. You’ll still get to meet sly Chesh, the bumbling King of Hearts, the nervous White Rabbit, and more, but Meyer has created a unique spin on classic characters.

Jest was the best part of this story for me. I liked Cath well enough, especially as the story went on and you see all of the expectations put on her a) for being a woman and b) for being the daughter of a Marquess. All she wants to do is open a bakery with her best friend, a dream which repeatedly gets dashed due to the sexist society she’s a part of, and you really start to feel her anxiety about her obligations to her family. Enter Jest – clever, handsome, and fun – another character that you’re not sure if you can trust, but you really don’t care because of how much you (and Cath) enjoy his presence. The part he plays in this story is beautiful, tragic, and so captivating that he’ll be on your mind long after you close the cover. Trust me, I still haven’t stopped thinking about Jest and his fellow Rook, Raven.

Things I Didn’t Like:

Cath has a really interesting ability to dream things into reality. When we very first meet Cath, she’s baking lemon tarts made with lemons from a tree which sprouted in her bedroom while she was dreaming. Incredible, right? You’d think this would be more of a major plot point, but it isn’t. Other than Cath wondering if perhaps she dreamed Jest into existence, this special talent doesn’t get much of a mention. I feel like the story could have either done completely without it or it should have played a bigger role.

Overall Rating:
4.5/5   It’s a little slow to start, but once Jest is introduced, you’ll be looking forward to him in each scene almost as much as Cath does. I think the allusions to Wicked and to Poe’s The Raven bring this tale from Wonderland to a new level. That being said, this story is going to break your heart. It will leave your emotions shattered, and at the end, you’re just going to want to curl up into a ball and curse Marissa Meyer for doing this to you. But you NEED to read this story, and part of you will feel thankful that you did – while the other part of you is bawling your eyes out in the BEST. WAY. POSSIBLE.

“I cannot tell you how I look forward to a lifetime at your side, and all the impossible things I’ll have you believing in.”

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